Edee: “Why are you helping me?”
Miguel: “You were in my path.”
In the days following March 17, 2020, I felt as if the walls were encroaching on me. I know we’d been told that we were supposed to shelter in place for only two weeks, but the idea of staying confined seemed impossible. I had roamed freely most of my life. My home has three bedrooms, there’s plenty of space for two people to mill about, but in my mind the idea of staying indoors felt claustrophobic (interesting thought for someone who finds the cave-like feel of a movie theatre ideal). Fortunately, the house where I live has a trail that after about ten minutes of walking leads you to a preserve and further beyond there’s the ocean and access to a mostly deserted beach. During those first days, I found such communion in those daily walks, noticing the fresh air in my face, the expansive feeling of nature, even the bird songs. It dawned on me that I had lived next to this for over eleven years, and I had taken it for granted. It took the world as I knew it to stop existing, so that I could discover the splendor of the nature surrounding me and the sense of freedom that comes with it.
I knew “Land” (2021) had to have merit because it was the directing debut of one of our most respected actors, Robin Wright. What I didn’t expect was to be so involved and brought to tears by its conclusion. It’s a story told with simplicity and clarity. She cast herself in the lead – which finds her alone for most of the film – and her acting is not surprisingly superb. She surrounds herself with a terrific script and a top notch team of collaborators to give us a film with themes that echo deeply.
We’re introduced to Edee Holzer (Wright) during an intense session with a therapist which she’s agreed to at the urging of her sister. She’s suffering from an unbearable loss, and she’s beyond help. The only answer is to seek solace in the wilderness alone. She stops in the small town of Quincy, Wyoming and buys herself a parcel of land atop the mountains with an abandoned cabin that has a history. She tells the salesman to take her car, and he warns they’re necessities since she’s so isolated. She insists. Edee comes with a supply of provisions, tools and field guides. At first, she appears organized and embracing of her new life off the grid. She starts to fish and do some planting with minor success. Yet she seems to have underestimated the power of nature. A bear breaks into her cabin destroying and taking most of her supplies, and a bitter winter starts to set in. “This isn’t working,” she cries out and kicks the door of the cabin in frustration. Seeing visions of the things she may have lost, we start to understand she might be resigned to let things take their course.
Soon after there’s a brutal snowstorm, and without food or warmth, Edee is losing the battle. A huntsman, Miguel Borras (played with warmth by Demián Bichir) passes by her cabin and knocks on her door. Miguel returns to the cabin with his friend Alawa, a nurse who lives on the Native reservation nearby. Thanks to their help, Edee survives, but she’s still weak and needs medical attention in town. “Can we agree on the fact that my actions are my business?” she tells them, refusing to leave her place. Miguel doesn’t try to change her mind. He starts to teach her the fundamentals of fending for herself. “Have you thought about what you want your life to be now?” he asks her. “I want to notice more. I want to notice everything around me,” she exclaims. Edee learns to become an expert in hunting, trapping and living off the land. Until one day when Miguel stops coming by, and she must leave the mountain to look for him.
What I love about the film is how it works as one big allegory. The landscape – her solitary life in the wilderness – is a visual experience that mirrors her internal world. This is fully embraced by director of photography Bobby Bukowski. There’s almost no dialogue in the first half of the film. It’s Robin Wright and her environment. There’s a progression in which her setting is photographed, and the way we see things from her limited point of view. She’s not in tune with the grandeur of her surroundings. Things start opening up slowly. Color transforms as well. By the time that Miguel is beckoning her to live again, bold yellow colors are introduced. The score seems to be another character chiming in with vibrant takes on folk, bluegrass and Americana. The usage of Tears for Fears’ 1980s hit “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is especially relevant, and hearing Bichir and Wright harmonize acapella to it is heavenly.
There’s a wonderful sense of mystery, ambiguity and healing in this film. There’s plenty of warmth and sensibility in what Wright is doing.
Edee: “I’m here because I choose to be.”
Beginning on March 5, you’ll be able to rent Land on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, and FandangoNow.
Written by Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam
Directed by Robin Wright
Starring Robin Wright and Demián Bichir
Co-Screenwriter Jesse Chatham on Writing “Land”
“Actually, my original title was ‘Island,’ which played off the line in the John Donne poem about no man (or woman) being “an island entire of itself.” I like the idea of thinking that being out there in the wilderness was like being on an island. I dropped off the “s” so that the title became ‘I Land.’ It turned out, however, that Netflix had a show called I-land. So the producers shortened it to ‘Land,’ which I think works fantastic. I definitely think it fits the film…I started writing it in 2015 and finished in early 2016. I wanted to give it the best possible shot, so I submitted it for the Nicholl Academy Screenplay Fellowship competition. I worked with Drew Hilton, a great screenplay analyst, who gave me some excellent notes. It was a great honor when my screenplay was chosen to be among the top 50 scripts. But what turned out to be really great was that Lora Kennedy, who was then head of casting at Warner Brothers, was one of the readers for the competition. She loved the script. When the contest was over, she reached out to me and things just happened from there. Lora was the film’s first producer, and then Allyn Stewart came on board in 2017. Sometime after that, Robin read it and really responded to the material and decided to direct it.” (focusfeatures.com)
Bringing “Land” to the Screen
When Robin Wright first read the script for “Land,” she thought the story was a perfect antidote to troubling times and the “encouragement to be mean over the last four years.” The film not only marks Wright’s feature directorial debut, but she also stars in the drama as Edee, a woman who decides to go off the grid by moving to a remote cabin in the woods after experiencing a horrific tragedy. There, she is befriended by a mysterious stranger, Miguel, played by Oscar-nominee Demián Bichir. “This movie just was so beautiful about human kindness,” Wright says on Tuesday’s episode of the “Just for Variety” podcast. “And yes, you’re going on a journey with a woman who has experienced an unfathomable event in her life that has changed her life forever and she decides to go off the grid. And it’s about being saved by somebody else. And then finding a renewed sense of hope in a new life. And I just felt like that message really needed to be re-reminded.” Wright never intended to star in the film. “We had a time crunch. We got financed, and we had this really slim window in which we had to cast it and get up on that mountain [they shot the movie in Alberta, Canada] and start prepping because we had to get four seasons in 29 days. … The producers were basically like, ‘We don’t have a choice to wait to see if we get a response. So Robin, I think you’re gonna have to just be in it.’”
Shooting on location, hours away from the nearest town, contributed to the film’s realism. It also made for some unforgettable moments off-camera. “Bobby Bukowski, our DP, chose to sleep in Edee’s cabin most of the shoot so that he could grab and capture everything and anything nature brought him,” Wright remembers. “He would just pick up that camera and shoot. And he would say things the next day like, ‘Well, me and my friend, you know, we got this beautiful sunrise shot this morning. Gorgeous peaks.’ And I kept saying to our producer, ‘Who’s the friend? I don’t remember seeing a friend. Was a friend here last night?’ The friend was his squirrel friend that got into the cabin and was his bed partner. That was his mountain friend. We were living the movie we shot for sure.” As tough as a 29-day-shoot on the side of mountain in the wilderness may be, Wright also says the experience was “therapeutic.” “We didn’t have very good cell coverage up there so there wasn’t a lot of emailing capability or phone calls,” she recalls. “I loved disconnecting from those devices. And I didn’t really have a choice. And it’s very liberating because you do get to sit with yourself and slow your mind down a little bit because we’re just always going, always thinking, spinning, spinning, spinning. And that is the therapy of it. It just makes you more meditative and you start looking at things more instead of looking and typing.” … (variety.com)
The Making of “Land”
Land takes place over a period of years in the mountains, including all four seasons, and Wright and her crew had to make the most of their 29 days, with her cinematographer, Bobby Bukowski, sleeping in the cabin Edee lives in, and Wright and her producer sleeping in trailers at base camp. “We were good and scrappy,” Wright says. “We’d be shooting a summer scene, and all of a sudden the Chinook winds would come, 75 miles an hour, and the tin roof on the cabin was almost flying off. And all of a sudden, the dump of snow. So we’d run back to the tent. ‘Go get in year three, and it’s winter. She’s got long hair and the beanie.’ And then we’d have to ruddy up my face and turn it over from year one to year three in 30 minutes.” In a script already light on dialogue, Wright stripped even more away, as she and Bichir determined that their characters would forge a bond over few words. “They didn’t have to talk about everything,” Wright says. “They didn’t have to know everything about each other and each other’s lives. There’s a quiet respect and an interesting platonic relationship that you don’t get to see very much in movies.” Sometimes while directing herself, Wright was able to review her performance on playback, but sometimes while in a precarious spot, she had to rely on her producers, “the three ladies in the tent,” Stewart, Lora Kennedy and Leah Holzer. “I could just give thumbs-up or thumbs-down, and they would just say, ‘Thumbs-down, do it again,’ ” Wright says. “Having that trust was a gift.”
While shooting the scenes of Edee alone on the mountain, “I worried,” Wright says. “How do we keep [the audience] engaged and keep the mystery going? Where they’re not bored out of their mind with one person for 20 minutes not saying anything and not speaking to anyone and not having another character other than nature.” But after seeing a cut by her editors, Anne McCabe and Mikkel E.G. Nielsen, that juxtaposed the mystery of Edee’s tragedy with the drama of her life in the wild, Wright became convinced that less was more. “You’re inquisitive,” she says. “What happened? Something happened to this woman.” Wright finished post-production remotely due to the pandemic, working with post houses in New York to qualify for a production rebate there. Land was supposed to be one of Sundance’s drive-in screenings, which were canceled as COVID-19 numbers soared in Los Angeles. “We’re going to look back on this time three to five years from now and not realize how deep the trauma is,” Wright says. “It’s so layered. We won’t even know how it affected us really until we come out of it.”
Demian Bichir on “Land” and Playing the Role of Miguel
“You know, what I’ve heard from everybody who has seen the film, is that it’s very easy to identify ourselves in it, because what we show in these two characters, Edee and Miguel, is pretty much how we are as human beings. We all go through a hard time… or if you haven’t, you will. That’s a must. That’s the only thing that is secure in this life: That we will, at some point, lose a loved one, whether it’s in an early stage or later on in your life, whether you expect it or not. That alone makes us connect very easily with the story, and with the characters. To me, it was about the very unique type of human being that Miguel is. I’m not saying that I have his virtues, or that I’m equal to this human being who’s willing to put everything aside in order to help another human being that he doesn’t even know. How many people do that, you know what I mean? The key part is when he says, “You were in my path. That’s exactly why I helped you.” Right? When she asks, “Why do you help me?” How many of us really stop when something is in your path, and when you have that opportunity to change somebody else’s life? Very few of us. So that, to me, was a key part of all this. In the times we’re living, I think it’s about time that we remember who we are as human beings. And this is the best of us, and it’s in the arts, and it’s in science. And it’s, of course, in athletes around the world, that’s the best of us. And you see that in these characters. And when you don’t care what your background is, and where you’re coming from, in order to make a difference in somebody else’s life, that’s, to me, when we will step out of our own bubble and become humans for good. So, it’s so timely, especially nowadays. I saw that there, and I identify myself very easily. And I wanted to explore that, and I wanted to explore the fact that this character is so contained, and so frugal in words, emotions, actions, and all that. I wanted to go into that territory that I hadn’t explored before.” (looper.com)
About Director of Photography Bobby Bukowski
Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski is a NYU Trish School master graduate who has worked with directors like Oren Moverman, Mark Pellington, Maya Forbes, Kari Skogland, Amy Redford, Ramin Bahrani, Brian Dannelly and many others. In 2008 he was nominated for the coveted GENIE award for his work on ‘The Stone Angel’. He has helped usher in game-changing cameras like the Arri Alexa. (seligfilmnews.com)
About Actor and Director Robin Wright
Robin Wright is an award-winning actress and philanthropist who is carving an indelible mark in Hollywood. She can currently be seen in the highly acclaimed Netflix original series “House of Cards,” alongside Kevin Spacey. Robin not only stars, but also serves as Executive Producer. She has directed four episodes of the series’ current season and three episodes of the previous season. Robin has received outstanding reviews for her portrayal as the formidable ‘Claire Underwood.’ She was nominated for a Golden Globe for the role in 2014, 2015 and 2016 for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama,” and took home the award in 2014. Robin was nominated in two categories for the 2015 and 2016 Screen Actors Guild Awards for “Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series” and “Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series.” She has also received Emmy nominations in 2013, 2014 and 2015 for “Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.” No stranger to the big screen, Robin will can be seen in “Wonder Woman,” the film based on the DC Comics series of the same name. Robin consistently receives glowing reviews for the various characters she plays. In 2010, Wright received critical acclaim as Mary Surratt in Robert Redford’s riveting courtroom drama, “The Conspirator.” In 2009, Wright received praise for her portrayal as ‘Pippa Lee’ in Rebecca Miller’s “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee.” The same year, Wright was also seen in the Christmas classic, “A Christmas Carol,” directed by Robert Zemeckis.
Wright has been recognized for her outstanding performances over the years. She was honored with a career tribute at the 35th Annual Deauville American Film Festival. Her first two nominations, a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild for Best Supporting Actress, came as early as 1995 for her unforgettable role as ‘Jenny’ in Robert Zemeckis’ Best Picture Oscar winner, “Forrest Gump.” Wright earned her second Screen Actors Guild nomination for Best Lead Actress in Nick Cassavetes’ “She’s So Lovely,” and her third nomination for Best Actress in a Television Movie or Miniseries in Fred Schepisi’s “Empire Falls.” She has received three Independent Spirit nominations for her performances in Erin Dignam’s “Loved;” Rodrigo Garcia’s “Nine Lives;” and Jeff Stanzler’s “Sorry, Haters.” Additionally, Wright starred in and served as an executive producer on Deborah Kampmeier’s “Virgin,” which received an Independent Spirit nomination for Best First Feature also known as the “John Cassavetes Award.” In 2014, Robin launched Pour Les Femmes, a socially conscious sleepwear line with clothing designer Karen Fowler. Pour Les Femmes partnered with Action Kivu and Synergie, two organizations dedicated to assisting in the assurance of safety for women in the Congo who are victims of violence. Wright is passionate about giving back and serves as a spokesperson for the Enough Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing peace to Congo. Robin is a dedicated advocate for the women of eastern Congo, serving as the film narrator and Executive Producer for the documentary, “When Elephants Fight.” Robin is as also an Ambassador with the Stand With Congo organization. Robin can be seen in the films “Everest,” “A Most Wanted Man” with the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and “The Congress.” Other film credits include: David Fincher’s highly acclaimed “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo;” “Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball” starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill; Rob Reiner’s cult classic “The Princess Bride;” Barry Levinson’s “What Just Happened;” Deborah Kampmeier’s “Houndog,” which Wright also executive produced; Kevin Macdonald’s “State of Play;” Anthony Minghella’s “Breaking and Entering;” Robert Zemeckis’ “Beowulf;” Keith Gordon’s “The Singing Detective;” Peter Kosminsky’s “White Oleander;” Anthony Drazan’s “Hurlyburly;” Sean Penn’s “The Pledge;” Luis Mandoki’s “Message in a Bottle;” M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable;” Pen Densham’s “Moll Flanders;” Barry Levinson’s “Toys” and “Room 10” for GLAMOUR magazine’s “Reel Women Film Series.” (rockefellerfoundation.org) Wright’s other works include “Adore” (2013), “The Congress” (2013), “A Most Wanted Man” (2014), “Everest” (2015), “Wonder Woman” (2017), “Blade Runner 2049” (2017), “Justice League” (2017) and “Wonder Woman 1984” (2020). Wright made her directorial debut in her 2020 film, “Land,” in which she starred and directed.